Columns 2003

Change not always a good thing

I know that we have all the ducks and geese we need in Anchorage, along with moose and bears and eagles, to name just a few.  But I’ve always thought they were part of what makes Anchorage different from every other American city of its size and age.

Back East, cities don’t share their sidewalks with wildlife – at least, not by the definition we attach to that word.  They are cities that grew up before cars and tend to have large and vibrant centers with massive buildings that create their own modern canyons for walking.  Nature, if found at all, is found in small doses in carefully controlled settings. Except of course for the rats. In New York City, the rats rate their own zip code they are so huge and controlling.

Cities that grew up after cars don’t tend to have large centers like Chicago and Philadelphia do.  Cities that grew up after cars tend to sprawl, and usually that sprawl is anything but attractive. Take a visitor around who is seeing Anchorage for the first time and listen to what they have to say. My sister stills looks out the window with amazement as trailer parks butt up against housing developments that are interrupted by gas stations that are hemmed in by lots filled with the detritus of one too many Alaskan winters. Look up to avoid the debris and you are apt to be greeted with a hundred foot sign done by someone who clearly chose utility over beauty.

The splendor of Anchorage is in the things it has that other cities can only dream about.  Green belts that pop out at the oddest places just as you think you can’t stand looking at one more box store. Moose that saunter across the road as though they owned it, totally uncowed by the speeding traffic.  Unexpected ponds and marshy areas that teem with life in the spring and summer.  The glory of the mountains that frame our city as though seen through a fairy tale illustration.

All of which is why I was so dismayed to hear that they will be making a major cloverleaf, or its modern equivalent, at the intersection of C and O’Malley while at the same time taking out the pond that formed there when the current intersection was created.

Now I realize we don’t need more marshes or ponds in Anchorage.  There are plenty of places for birds to congregate and in the general scheme of things this small pond hardly qualifies for a second thought. And I know the plans call for a small green area to replace the pond when it is eliminated to make room for the new highway access and the extension of C Street from Dimond to O’Malley.

But I will miss the intersection as it exists today.  It’s stop light makes you slow down a bit as you speed to work or race home with your nerves still jangling from a busy day.  I like that in spring and summer when I turn on to or off O’Malley at that intersection I can peek a look at the birds there. I like that sometimes the cars stop so a momma goose can escort her brood of goslings safely across the intersection.

It forces you to take a break and take a breath.  At the end of the day, it gives a distinct demarcation to the hectic world of work that you just left and the home you are heading towards. And even if home means a second shift of kids and dinner and homework, the few minutes that you sit waiting there for the light, watching the birds float gracefully in the water or waddling busily around taking care of their little ones, creates a little oasis of peace.

Progress always seems to come at a price. Nowadays you even read letters in the paper claiming our wildlife has no place in Anchorage.  But it does, you know.  It reminds us of why most of us came to Alaska and why most of us stay.  As citified as we’ve become, we still cling to that bit of us that is thrilled to see moose on the edge of the highway and goslings awkwardly stumbling behind mom as they cross the road.  It assures us this still is Alaska and we are still in the Greatland.

Yes, I’ll be very sorry to see that intersection change.  It’s another sign that we are growing up.  I’m just not always sure that’s such a good thing.